Lowclass Art

Artist: Lowclass Art
Photographer: Ingrid Love

The Devil is in the Details

While the wet June weather was prohibiting painting, we sat down with Benji Lowclass of Lowclass Art to learn about his inspirations and the piece he is creating for NIMF 2019. Benji grew up in Ontario and is currently based out of Revelstoke BC.

We are pretty curious about your artist name, what’s the story behind “Lowclass”?

So, I’ve gotten a lot of shit about the name over the years, and I’ve thought of changing it but I kinda like that it’s a bit controversial. It’s mainly because I support the underdogs. I’m all about the losers, not the winners. It’s the small guys, the hard-working people, and the middle-class people. I think it’s funny that our society thinks of “lowclass” as a bad thing. I put upside-down triangles in my work, because that’s how I’d like the world to be, few on the bottom, many on the top. Well, being Canadian I’m not really “lowclass”, but it’s like the song by Johnny Cash, “Men in Black”. It’s about representing the underdogs, the losers, the people left behind.

What are some influences/inspirations on your art?

When I was a little kid, I liked Robert Bateman. He does really detailed paintings of North American nature scenes and animals like buffalo, lynx, cougars, and moose. That was an early inspiration for me. My dad is an artist, so he inspired me and got me drawing, but then as I got older, I started skateboarding and listening to a lot of music. Music is definitely one of my top influences, and you can see that in my art. I’ve always been a hippie, my friends back east have always called me one and it’s one of the reasons I moved out west. I listened to tons of classic rock, blues, and psychedelic rock-n-roll growing up in high school. You know those San Francisco festival posters from the ’60s, with the groovy colors and hand-done lettering? That was a big inspiration of mine. And then, skateboarding, snowboarding, and surf culture is a huge part of my inspiration as well. I’m fascinated with old-school shit, like music, clothing styles, and printing methods from the 70’s-80’s. Santa Cruz, and the bright 80’s surf art with the thrasher guys. Thrasher, yeah, that’s a big one too. I’m inspired by Mike Giant, an artist from San Francisco, and by Montreal-based artists 123KLAN, a husband/wife team. They got their start in graffiti, became a graffiti crew, and then they turned it into design. Which is another inspiration for me, hip-hop and graffiti.

To sum it up, my inspirations are surf, skate, hip-hop, graffiti, and music.

Are you a musician yourself?

Yeah I am, I come from a very right-sided brain family. My dad is a musician, and so is my mom. I got a lot of early inspiration from my dad, he had me playing guitar, piano, bass, singing, and just jamming and stuff like that. I actually went to school for music after high school, I was going to be a rockstar. *laughter

Would you say “mountain culture” or “mountain town culture” makes an appearance in your art?

I always wanted to live in the city when I was young, for some reason, but the older I got, instead of going skateboarding on weekends, I’d go up north camping. The more time I spent camping and up in the bush, the stronger my connection with nature and animals became, so I decided I’d move west and live in the mountains. Camping in Ontario is great, but here it’s like camping on steroids. I love Canadian culture and our whole environment here so I really try to represent that in my art. You won’t find me painting tigers or palm trees—maybe surfboards once in a while— but more skateboards or snowboards because it’s local to me. I like representing the local mountain culture, I think it’s something so unique that we have in these small towns. You see a lot of Canadian art throughout small towns, and typically it’s the same stuff, landscapes, flowers, and bears. So I’m trying to do that stuff that everybody loves but in a more graphic, modern, and youthful way.

What are some of the challenges and rewards of creating public art in a small town/community?

That’s part of the reason I moved to Revelstoke; it’s a whole big fish/small pond thing. Sometimes I think about moving to Nelson, but because there’s so much art here already, I’d rather stay in Revelstoke. It hasn’t happened in Revelstoke yet, so I want to be at the forefront of that. There are so many walls, and it’s a happening place with more and more people coming through, but no murals or festivals yet. I want to be there, breaking ground to get some of those artistic things happening in Revelstoke. I always wanted to work for snowboard and skateboard companies, and if I was doing that in Toronto, I’d be working in a corporate office, selling the dream, but here, I work with some smaller snow/skate companies that are just starting up. I want to be part of the collaboration, part of something, rather than working for someone.

Are there some differences to creating public art in a small town versus a city? Is there more or less competition for spaces among artists?

I feel like it’s probably tougher in the city. There’s more opportunity to make bigger money in the cities, but for me, it’s more about the project. In the city, there are lots of events and projects you can apply to join, but in small towns, those things usually aren’t happening yet. That means it’s easier to get noticed (in a town), but you have to get out there and make that shit happen yourself, by drumming up your own events and breaking trail. I want to break trail in Revelstoke.

Do you have any advice for someone starting out in public art/street art?

I would have loved to live in the big city and have had a group of friends to steal paint with and go do some tags, but I never really did a lot of that. Well, I did do a few, and I got a lot of inspiration from them. You don’t need to be tagging huge walls to make it. I’m getting paid to do this huge mural now, but I’ve done things pretty legally. My advice would be to get involved. There’s value in your art, don’t think that it’s not viable because some people frown upon it. Push that shit, take that artwork and get involved with the city. Don’t wait for projects to come to you, make those projects yourself.

Can you tell us a bit about the piece you are creating in Nelson?

I’m a very commercial artist, I never really have time to do expressive art, it’s always for a business, a T-shirt, an event, or for promoting something. I want to represent all the things we live here for that whole ski bum culture, hippies, festivals, and camping.

So in my piece, you’ve got a classic hippie van—you see cool hippie camper vans everywhere in BC— especially Nelson and Revelstoke. Canadian animals, iconic shit like eagles, cougars, and bears. I love the rainforest and the climate here, and we get so many varieties of mushrooms, so I have a whole bunch of different mushrooms in there. A wolf howling at the moon, and an old wooden “Nelson” sign. I get a lot of inspiration from history, that’s the most badass shit to me, especially the outlaw vibe. They called it the ‘Queen City’ before they called it Nelson, and 1897 was when the town was incorporated. We’ve got snowboarders and skiers because it’s a mountain culture town. And then on the other side, I’ve got two beavers. They’re chopping down a tree, which represents the logging industry; good or bad, I wanted to represent it. Animals dance around a campfire, because everybody loves campfires. A glacier-fed waterfall, and a toad sitting on a mountain, which is the Silver King mine. I love the saying “the devils in the details”, in my art, it’s really all about those little things.

You can find Benji’s mural “Silver King” behind Kootenay Lake Dental. 

Interviewer: Ingrid Love – 2019


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